With the 2014 Bologna Children’s Book Fair in full swing, trends were beginning to emerge, and they sounded a bit like the trends of last year’s fair. In short: a continued interest in middle-grade books, and an emphasis on realistic YA over all things paranormal and dystopian.
"I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. In terms of realistic YA fiction, one of Chudney’s major titles is Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay, which HarperCollins will publish in 2015; German rights to the project have sold.
"There will be room again in the market for realistic YA, especially with the Fault in Our Stars and If It Stay movies coming out later this year," said agent Brenda Bowen of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. She added that she’s "pleased" with the picture book market, too. "We’re selling foreign rights, and people are still looking for them."
Alexander Slater, foreign rights agent at Trident Media Group, also felt that "contemporary realism" is having a moment, with "international publishers moving away from fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal." On the middle-grade side, Trident represents R.J. Palacio, and Slater said that the Wonder phenomenon continues to grow (rights have sold in 40 territories). Thus, he said there had been "definite interest" in the author’s follow-up book, 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown’s Book of Precepts, which is due out from Random House in late August.
Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary spoke to the locality of what different international publishers are looking for, saying that "what’s working in your market is different than what’s working somewhere else." But she also recognized an overall trend toward realism over fantasy and dystopia, as well as a resurgent interest in middle-grade during the past two or three Bologna fairs.
However, a declining interest in dystopia doesn’t mean that all futuristic books are out. Testerman was talking up Alexandra Duncan’s Salvage, out in April from Greenwillow, which she described as a "feminist, multicultural, kickass adventure." The book has a futuristic setting, but it isn’t dystopia, and Testerman believes that makes a difference. "What people are tired of is the collapse of society," she said. "This is near-future that’s taking technology to the next level." Polish rights have sold, and she’s in talks for German and British rights.
Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio likewise commented on the "renewed energy for middle-grade." She also spoke in praise of the backlist for connecting international publishers with the right book (she found herself reaching back to suggest Rose Cooper’s Blogtastic! series and Lisa Papademetriou’s Confectionally Yours books, both of which have been out in the U.S. for a few years). "The market wheel keeps turning," she said, noting that older books can become timely once more as tastes and trends shift. "You don’t need to sell all the rights out of the gate." For YA frontlist, Stimola said interest had been strong for Mary E. Pearson’s Remnant Chronicles (launching in July from Holt) and Jodi Lynn Anderson’s The Vanishing Season (HarperTeen, July).
This was the first Bologna fair for Szilvia Molnar, foreign rights director at Sterling Lord Literistic. "My first impression is that publishers are not interested in trends, but going for their own specific themes," she said, echoing the idea that, even amid some overarching trends, publishers’ interests can vary widely from market to market. She also noticed an anecdotal interest in books with transgender themes; along those lines, Sterling Lord represents Francesca Lia Block’s Love in the Time of Global Warming and its forthcoming companion, The Island of Excess Love, which features a transgender love interest.
For middle-grade, Molnar was seeing interest in Eric Kahn Gale’s The Zoo at the Edge of the World (which was recently named a BEA middle-grade buzz book); she also said she was going to be doing her first seven-figure deal, one involving the Berenstain Bears.
A Busy Fair Remains So
Over at the combined Hachette booth, new to this year’s fair, Kristin Dulaney, head of subsidiary rights at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, was seeing the same strong interest in middle-grade. She’d closed pre-empts in seven countries for Geoff Rodkey’s The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other), with the book going to auction in Spain and Holland. And she said that James Patterson’s illustrated middle-grade books were becoming "a real success story for us," selling "in territories we’ve never sold him before. People are realizing that he’s here to stay [in middle-grade], and he’s giving them exactly what they want."
British publisher David Fickling, whose company went independent last year, was back in Bologna after a three-year absence, with a backpack filled with books. "I’ve got five fantastic novels I’m shopping," he said. He wants to publish for all age ranges, and one category he’s excited about publishing is nonfiction: "I want to bring the effort that people put into picture books into nonfiction," he said.
"I haven’t been to this [fair] in years," said Samantha Ferguson, international sales director for Insight Editions, "but I’ve had a ton of meetings with our foreign rights partners, as well as drop-ins." Interest was high in a new pop-up book from Matthew Reinhart, albeit one for an older (read: adult) audience: Game of Thrones: A Pop-Up Guide to Westeros.
Daniel Ehrenhaft, editorial director at Soho Teen, was bouncing around the fair in meetings. "I’m doing more business than I have in the past," he said, having just wrapped up a deal for German rights for Adele Griffin’s The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone, which Soho Teen will publish in August.
Gibbs Smith was exhibiting at Bologna for the first time, and CEO Bradley Farmer said it was already paying off. "The show has been excellent for us." The company’s BabyLit line of board book adaptations of classic literature was a big area of focus; in the weeks and months before the show, they’d sold Brazilian and Korean rights to some titles in the series, but saw "strong interest" in the BabyLit line from more than half a dozen international publishers during the show. The line is expanding to 16 titles with the addition of Frankenstein and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in August.
Lerner’s Andrew Karre offered a reminder that Bologna isn’t all "books of the show" and splashy deals. "My Bologna shopping list can be a bit workmanlike," he admitted; it often involves buying series, often out of the U.K., for Lerner’s Darby Creek imprint. But despite being wrapped up in what he calls "unsexy but important deals," Karre still finds the show important for connecting with other people in the industry, including American agents he doesn’t often see, being based out of Minnesota. "I don’t know the last time I saw Steven Chudney in the U.S.," he said. "He’s Italian as far as I’m concerned."